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Center for Career and Calling

Interviews

Interviewing is an art. Interviewing well takes time, commitment, preparation, and a lot of practice. The person who gets hired is not necessarily the best one for the job — often it’s the person who knows how to get hired. But the good news is, you can be both! We’re here to help you prepare for and master the art of the interview.

Know yourself

  1. Memorize your résumé. Understand clearly how your goals, strengths, education, and abilities will be an asset to the company.
  2. Review your profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media sites you might have, and imagine your prospective employer looking over your shoulder. Revise accordingly. Google yourself, too — prospective employers will likely Google you.

Understand the organization and the position

Employers want to know what you can do for them, and it’s your job to tell them. Therefore, learn everything you can about the organization — its mission statement, products, training programs, history, current status, goals, finances, and anything else that seems relevant. Here’s how:

  • Talk to people in the field or company. Use your network of contacts or LinkedIn to help identify people in your field of interest. Set up and conduct informational interviews.
  • Research the company online. Being able to demonstrate knowledge about the company and industry shows effort and demonstrates passion.

Know the time and place

Be absolutely certain of your appointment time and place — don’t hesitate to call and double-check, or to call for directions and parking instructions. Allow more than plenty of time to get there — bad traffic is not an excuse for being late. Far better to wait 30 minutes in your car or a coffee shop than arrive five minutes late!

Know the name of the person you will be talking to, and be able to spell and pronounce it correctly.

Dress appropriately

You never get a second chance to make a first impression! Therefore, be sure you are dressed appropriately.

Bring the right stuff

Carry a leather portfolio or folder containing several copies of your résumé, your list of references, and any other documents requested by the employer. Bring paper and pen, and consider jotting down a few reminders of what you want to say, and your questions for the interviewer. Don’t forget your portfolio or business cards, if you have them.

Showtime

The moment you walk through the company door, you will be scrutinized. Hiring is extremely subjective, and influenced not just by your qualifications but by how well the employer and co-workers believe you will fit with the team.

  • Be friendly and courteous to every person you encounter — even in the restroom or elevator. When introducing yourself, say your first and last name. Make eye contact, smile, and give a firm handshake.
  • Watch for the interviewer’s cues for where you should sit, the pace of the conversation, the amount of small talk, etc.
  • Let the sparkling parts of your personality shine.

Maintain good “body language”

  • Maintain good eye contact and nod your head appropriately.
  • Sit leaning slightly forward with your arms unfolded.
  • Avoid distracting hand movements and squirming in your chair.
  • Avoid thinking about your next answer — it distracts you from paying full attention.
  • If it seems appropriate, feel free to jot down a few notes.

Answer the questions

Be concise and to the point. Make sure you answer the question that was asked, and ask for clarification if necessary. Demonstrate knowledge of yourself, the employer, and the position. Use examples or stories when appropriate. Always be friendly, confident, enthusiastic, and positive.

Illegal or inappropriate questions
Be prepared in the event your interviewer asks an illegal or inappropriate question about age, ethnicity, religion, race, citizenship, marital status, arrest records, or disabilities:

  • You can refuse to answer, or ask why the question is relevant. For example, you might say, “Could you help me understand how this is related to the position?” Or, “I’m not sure what you mean by this question?”
  • You can just answer the question if you choose, or address what you think is the underlying issue. For example, the question, “Do you have a family?” may be the interviewer’s clumsy way of asking if you can handle the nights, weekends, and travel the job requires. You can say, “I’m aware of the time commitment needed, and can assure you that I’m quite willing to put in the hours needed to do an excellent job.”

Ask questions

Prepare a list of questions to ask the employer at the end of the interview to show you have done your homework and are truly interested in the job. Don’t ask questions you could have found on the website. Ask about new products, programs, services, events, mergers, etc. Other possibilities:

  • What are you looking for in a candidate?
  • What are some of the immediate challenges facing the organization? What will be the role of the person you hire in facing these challenges?
  • Tell me about the culture of the organization.

Don’t ask about salary or benefits at the interview, but be prepared to answer questions about salary history or expectations. Read more about salary.

Close gracefully

Leaving a good impression is just as important as making a good first impression. Never leave an interview with an uneasy “I wish I had said …” feeling. Some good closing questions and actions:

  • Is there anything about my background and experience that we didn’t cover today that would be helpful for you to know?
  • What is the next step in the process? When do you expect to make a decision?
  • Thank the interviewer for his or her time, and shake everyone’s hand before you leave — again, make eye contact, and convey confidence!
  • Reiterate your interest in the position.
  • Your interviewer might end the interview with, “Is there anything else we should know about you?” Have a succinct and enthusiastic summary of your qualifications ready.
  • Ask for the business card of each person who interviews you, or ask your interview host for a list of your interviewers, for your thank-you notes.

Evaluate

Make each interview a learning experience. After the interview, evaluate what you did well and what you need to improve.

Send a thank-you note

Within 24 hours of the interview, send a thank-you note to each person who interviewed you.

Inquire

If you have not heard back in a week or so, or you have an alternative decision to make, it is perfectly correct to call and inquire.

Second interview

Generally after a first interview, those screened will have a longer second interview. You will usually meet with a variety of people with whom you could be working. They usually don’t have the power to hire you, but their input is considered. The time tends to be less formal, more relaxed, but remain on your toes!

About 60% of those invited to a second interview are hired. Arrangements can be more complex, so be sure you understand exactly what you need to know. If you’re unsure about anything, call the person who invited you for the interview.

Congratulations! You got an offer!

It’s customary to ask for a few days to consider an offer. Express your enthusiasm for the job and interest in the organization, and agree on a specific deadline for your answer. Be sure to get the offer in writing. More about salaries.

The Mock Interview Program allows undergraduate students and alumni the opportunity to practice interview skills and receive feedback in a safe, supportive environment. Mock interviews are a “dress rehearsal” for an actual interview, and require special arrangements with the CCC. The first 20–30 minutes will be a simulated interview experience, and the remaining 20–30 minutes will be dedicated to feedback and coaching.

Get help with your application materials

Our career counselors are available to help you create and critique your résumé/CV, cover letter, reference list, portfolio, and thank-you letters. We can also advise you on professional etiquette and dressing for an interview.

Learn more >

CCC and the SPU Library

The SPU Library has a Subject Guide on Career, Vocation, & Calling that includes fantastic resources for preparing for interviews.

Learn more >